Hawaiian Governor Lingle voices discontent with Native Hawaiian bill

By Herbert A. Sample
Honolulu, Hawaii (AP) March 2010

Gov. Linda Lingle during March voiced strong objections with the current version of legislation pending in the U.S. Senate that would establish a governing entity for Native Hawaiians.

In a letter she sent to every U.S. senator, Lingle wrote that she has long backed recognition for Native Hawaiians. She supported a prior version that the Senate voted on in 2006, she added.

But she now opposes the measure – known as the “Akaka Bill,” after U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii – in part because it immediately vests a governing entity with ill-defined powers instead of allowing those powers to be negotiated between the entity and federal and state governments.

The new bill, she said, “Inevitably sets the Native Hawaiian governing entity and the State of Hawaii on a jurisdictional collision course whose damage may not be repaired until the conclusion of substantial, costly, and counterproductive litigation or further remedial legislation from the Congress, assuming the damage could ever be repaired.”

Native Hawaiians should win federal recognition akin to that enjoyed by American Indians and Alaska natives, Lingle stated.

Federally recognized Native American tribes that have sovereign immunity do so in a framework of treaties, federal law and court decisions, she said. There are far fewer legal guideposts for tribes lacking a land base, and Native Hawaiians would not obtain one under the current Akaka bill, she added.

Moreover, the measure exempts the Native Hawaiian governing entity from state criminal, public health, child safety and environmental laws, and local building and traffic safety ordinances, the governor contended.

“The explicit sovereign immunity and exemption from regulation provisions in the present bill allow the Native Hawaiian governing entity, and its leaders, to conduct activities anywhere in Hawaii (and potentially any other state) in a way that is inconsistent with State criminal statutes otherwise applicable to all citizens,” she wrote.

The bill bars the Native Hawaiian entity from allowing gambling, but Lingle said it also strips the state of effective means of enforcing the provision in court.

Akaka said the Native Hawaiian governing entity called for under the current bill would possess the same level of sovereign immunity provided to the more than 500 other native governments in the United States.

“I intend to move forward with the current bill and hope to bring it to the Senate floor this year. I remain optimistic about Senate passage,” Akaka said.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he was disappointed Lingle was unable to support the bill. But he’s pleased a majority of changes the governor requested were included in the bill as the result of a “productive discussion” between the stae attorney general, Hawaii’s congressional delegation and the Obama administration.

Clyde Namuo, chief executive officer of the semi-independent state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, noted that differences of opinion on landmark legislation are common. He urged the state’s politicians to work out their differences.

“We now have an historic opportunity for Native Hawaiians to secure the self determination and achieve a process of recognition for which we have strived for generations,” Numuo added.

There was no immediate comment from Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who also supports the new version of the legislation.